Why does Eric Adams oppose legislation that could free up shelter space?

City Hall said that council legislation to expand eligibility for housing vouchers would cost billions and make it more difficult for those most in need to access them.

New York City Council Member Diana Ayala, with other council members supporting the package of bills.

New York City Council Member Diana Ayala, with other council members supporting the package of bills. Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

The New York City Council plans to pass a package of bills that would make more people eligible for city rental vouchers, creating more capacity in the city’s overburdened shelter system. But after Mayor Eric Adams stated his opposition to the bills over the cost, proponents of the package suggested that there is a contradiction in the administration’s position. 

Adams’ opposition to the package was reported on the same day that his administration requested relief from a judge from the city’s right to shelter mandate, saying that the city’s resources are already overextended. The city’s shelter population has hit record highs, and there are more than 44,000 asylum-seekers currently in the city’s care, New York City Budget Director Jacques Jiha recently testified to the City Council.

“I’m sure all of you agree, either publicly or privately, New York has done its share,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference on Wednesday. “Our shelter system is buckling. We are trying to prevent it from collapsing. We all know it’s a real issue so we’ve got to stop pretending like it’s not.” The administration has said that they’re not trying to roll back the right to shelter mandate entirely, but attempting to seek clarity and flexibility based on the influx of asylum-seekers.

If the city needs more shelter capacity to accommodate asylum-seekers and its existing homeless population, council members and advocates asked, why not support legislation that could help individuals and families exit the shelter system? “It doesn’t make any sense,” said City Council Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, who sponsors legislation that would eliminate a requirement that people reside in the shelter system for 90 days before being eligible for city housing vouchers. “Why are we prolonging a family staying in shelter when we could be expediting and doing everything that we can to use resources we already have to move them out?”

The council’s package of legislation also includes bills sponsored by City Council Member Pierina Sanchez, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Buildings, that would make anyone at risk of eviction or experiencing homelessness eligible for vouchers, and prohibit sources of income or work status from being used as a basis for eligibility.

Mayor Adams’ position on the bills is even reportedly tearing apart his own administration. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Chief Housing Officer Jessica Katz is resigning – partially because of the mayor’s opposition to the council legislation. 

The Adams administration said on Wednesday afternoon that it supported eliminating the 90-day rule for just families, and said that they presented that as a standalone proposal to the council in April. But the City Council and City Hall offered contrasting versions of what kind of proposal was presented to the council. On Wednesday, City Hall showed City & State an email chain with council staff that included a proposal to eliminate the 90-day rule for families, but not individuals. (City & State has not independently verified these communications.) The email chain, which City & State viewed in person but was not sent a copy of, showed staff with the council’s Committee on General Welfare, which Ayala chairs, rejecting the proposal on behalf of the sponsors of the bill. Ayala said that she was not aware of such a proposal from City Hall, and that committee staff wouldn’t have the authority to reject something on their own.

The proposal that Ayala said she was aware of from the administration – and didn’t agree to – was to eliminate the 90-day rule but just grant a couple thousand extra vouchers, instead of expanding the eligibility criteria, as the council’s bills do now.

And while the Adams administration and the City Council disagree over who said what when, Ayala said it’s beside the point. She told City & State that she would not accept what the administration said it supports – eliminating the 90-day rule for just families – if she heard it from City Hall earlier, and said she will not accept it now. 

Ayala’s bill would eliminate the 90-day rule for all applicants and not just families, and the other bills in the package would further expand eligibility for the vouchers. “We've been having this conversation for several months, this is not a conversation that we started having last week,” Ayala said. “The best they've been able to offer is a couple of thousand extra vouchers. And unfortunately, that's not what we're asking for.”

The Adams administration has said that implementing the council’s package of legislation as-is would cost the city and make the voucher system less efficient. “These bills will not only cost New York City an estimated $17 billion over the next five years – adding billions onto the backs of New York taxpayers – but will force the creation of a waiting list for vouchers, eliminating the prioritization of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness for housing subsidies,” a City Hall spokesperson said in a statement. The Daily News also reported that Adams has personally called council members asking them to vote against the bills. The administration and City Council leaders are already clashing over the upcoming budget, with City Hall saying that the asylum-seeker crisis and other economic pressures necessitate more conservative spending than what the council has advocated for.

Proponents of the legislation pushed back on the assertion that the changes would result in those additional costs. According to an analysis by Win, the homeless shelter and supportive housing provider, the cost to the city of housing a family of three in a traditional shelter is $188 per night on average, while it costs $72 per night to provide that family with a housing voucher. 

City Hall maintains that the costs of expanding voucher eligibility would outweigh savings on shelter costs. It’s unclear how many more people would be eligible for housing vouchers if the bills went into effect. 

It’s also unclear whether Adams would veto bills, or the entire package, if the council passes them without changes, as is expected Thursday. Ayala told City & State that she expected the council would have the votes to override any veto, if it came to that. 

In a press conference at City Hall on Wednesday, sponsors of the council’s legislation including Ayala, Sanchez, Tiffany Cabán and others, spoke in support of the bills ahead of plans to pass them on Thursday. And in the wake of the Adams administration’s request for relief from the city’s long standing legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone who needs it, council members and advocates characterized the package as part of a solution to the capacity issues that Adams is talking about.

“It’s clear that their opposition is based on fear,” said Council Member Julie Won, a co-sponsor of the bills, when asked about the administration’s position on the legislation. “There have been rumblings about how the general public might take advantage of it, and that we will be at a loss for costs.”  

“We're doing this at a time when we have a crisis of asylum-seekers who have literally walked through rivers to get to the United States,” said former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is now president and CEO of Win. “We are passing these, in part, to help those individuals, to get people out of shelter and into permanent housing, so beds will open up in shelters and not welfare hotels for these brave individuals.”